Novo Nordisk leads pharma pack breaking into Reputation Institute’s corporate responsibility ranking

Novo Nordisk was the highest ranking pharma in Reputation Institute's corporate responsibility study this year, leading six others in consumer perception. (Novo Nordisk)

Big pharma’s reputation may be on the upswing, at least when it comes to corporate responsibility. Last year only Johnson & Johnson cracked the top 100 in Reputation Institute’s annual measurement of public perceptions.

But this year, seven made the cut—and Novo Nordisk vaulted into the top 10 at No. 5.

Reputation Institute, which also does a broader annual reputation study by industry, said pharma hasn’t made the grade in corporate responsibility in part because consumers haven't known much about their work in that vein. Now, pharma is getting noticed for the study’s metrics in social, fiscal and environmental responsibility, and as good employers, too.

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“A challenge for pharma companies is that there is a knowledge gap," said Ana Angelovska, research director at Reputation Institute, in an email interview. Pharma companies "are doing a lot of great work and are in the business of saving people's lives, [but they] are not getting the credit that they are due."

"In fact, a lot of times, the public perceives them as being too profitable rather than focused on corporate responsibility," Angelovska added. "By aligning their products to the companies’ corporate purpose and what they stand for as a company, [they can] help bridge this knowledge gap."

Besides Novo, the drugmakers that made the top 100 were Lilly (No. 29), Sanofi (No. 34), J&J (which dropped from No. 34 to No. 60), Roche (No. 68), Bayer (No. 82), and GSK (No. 92).

Novo Nordisk did well in particular because it has managed to link its products with the overall company's image, and it is leading with purpose, Angelovska said. Novo gained notice with a “focus on social impact, environmental responsibility and financial performance, as well as being an employer focused on innovation and responsibility,” she said.

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Among the pharma companies in the top 100, Novo led comparatively in brand expressiveness, according to the study. 

Google led all brands at No. 1, followed by Walt Disney Company, Lego Group, Natura, Novo, Microsoft, Bosch, Canon, Michelin and IKEA rounding out the top 10. In looking at overall takeaways from this year, Angelovska said, the 2018 study found that corporate responsibility is becoming more relevant to consumers. Companies that fare well stand behind what they say and do when it comes to corporate brand purpose, she said.